The Twenty Minute Policy

Review by Carmel Shortall

The Twenty Minute Policy, Trent Burton and Trunkman Productions’ new play, premiered at the Etcetera Theatre on the first day of the Camden Fringe yesterday. The play demonstrates and contrasts different ways of interpreting what’s happening in our lives and pitches these against each other through the interactions of Tess, Lisa and Andrew.

The play opens in darkness while a soothing voice talks about ignorance and power. The lights reveal two women sitting at tables facing the audience and there is a sense of unfolding mystery as we wonder increasingly why they are there, what they are waiting for and why one is so accepting of her situation while the other is determined to push against its metaphorical confines. 

Lisa tries to engage Tess in conversation while they wait, their lives “on pause”, but Tess is less keen. She eventually succumbs through her frustration with Lisa’s endless references to the rulebook. And there are rules for everything; from chewing gum to smiling at people after 7pm (it might encourage homosexuality!). But the rule that Lisa most clings to is one that will shortly be found to be unreliable: the twenty minute policy. Despite increasing evidence that the twenty minute policy no longer applies, Lisa’s faith in it, and the rules, is unshakable in the face of Tess’s relentless logic.When they have all but given up they are visited by Andrew who is as surprised to find them as they are to see him. Andrew represents a third viewpoint – while seemingly harried and distressed, he claims to “go with the flow” and, indeed, seems to have more freedom to move about than the other two. He leaves the door open if they wish to use it. This throws Lisa into a quandary – if she leaves, the rulebook finally falls apart and nothing she has relied upon means anything. Tess tells her that “the rules are not evidence or proof of anything” and that they hurt Lisa more than Tess. Lisa replies that Tess would rather be proved right than be content. Their differing positions summed up thus neatly, they are free to choose whether or not to take their lives off “pause”.

The cast is excellent with Charlotte Sutherland as Tess particularly outstanding. The play is simply but effectively staged and the direction assured – there is no hint that this is Melinda Burton’s first outing as director. Special mention should go to Tiffany Hudson, responsible for the atmospheric sound effects and lighting.

This is a play that will make you laugh as well as think; that conveys a sense of what it means to be an ordinary human being with a “feeling of being stuck, of having to be told by someone what’s going on” as well as offering a sense of hope.

The Twenty Minute Policy will be showing every evening at 7.30pm until Saturday 7th August at the Etcetera Theatre, above the Oxford Arms in Camden High Street.   

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